Religion in Philanthropic Organizations
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Conflict in actions intended for the common good

Religion in Philanthropic Organizations explores the tensions inherent in religious philanthropies across a variety of organizations and examines the effect assumptions about "professional, scientific, nonsectarian" philanthropy have had on how religious philanthropies carry out their activities. The organizations examined include the American Friends Service Committee, the American Soviet Jewry Movement, Catholic Charities USA, the Salvation Army, the World Council of Churches, and World Vision (in global comparative context). The book also looks at Robert Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse, and at matters not bounded by a single religious philanthropy: philanthropy and Jewish identity, American Muslim philanthropy since 9/11, and the complexities of the federal program that funds faith-based initiatives. These essays shed light on how religion and philanthropy function in American society, shaping and being shaped by the culture and its notions of the "common good."

1. New Wineskins or New Wine? The Evolution of Ecumenical Humanitarian Assistance
Elizabeth G. Ferris
2. Religious Ambivalence in Jewish American Philanthropy
Shaul Kelner
3. The Price of Success: The Impact of News on Religious Identity and Philanthropy
Diane Winston
4. Heartbroken for God's World: The Story of Bob Pierce, Founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse
David P. King
5. Catholic Charities, Religion, and Philanthropy
Fred Kammer
6. "Intelligent Leadership in the Cause of Racial Brotherhood": Quakers, Social Science, and the American Friends Service Committee's Interwar Racial Activism
Allan W. Austin
7. Religious Philanthropies and Government Social Programs
Sheila S. Kennedy
8. Juggling the Religious and the Secular: World Visions
Susan McDonic
9. Philanthropic Decisions of American Jews: The Influence of Religious Identity on Charitable Choices
Arnold Dashefsky and Bernard Lazerwitz
10. Myth vs. Reality: Muslim American Philanthropy since 9/11
Shariq Siddiqui



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Date de parution 26 septembre 2013
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EAN13 9780253009975
Langue English

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Dwight F. Burlingame and David C. Hammack, editors
Family, Friend, Foe?
Edited by Thomas J. Davis
Indiana University Press
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Religion in philanthropic organizations : family, friend, foe? / edited by Thomas J. Davis. — 1st [edition].
    pages cm. — (Philanthropic and nonprofit studies)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-253-00992-0 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-253-00995-1 (pbk : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-253-00997-5 (eb)
1. Faith-based human services—United States. 2. Church charities—United States. 3. Social service—United States—Religious aspects. 4. Humanitarianism—Religious aspects. I. Davis, Thomas J. (Thomas Jeffery), 1958– editor of compilation.
HV530.R247 2013
361.7'50973—dc23                                                                                                                                            2013011147
1 2 3 4 5   17 16 15 14 13
This book is dedicated to the memory of Karen Lake Buttrey, whose vision and generosity were instrumental in the establishment of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving.
Introduction / Thomas J. Davis
1  New Wineskins or New Wine? The Evolution of Ecumenical Humanitarian Assistance / Elizabeth G. Ferris
2  Religious Ambivalence in Jewish American Philanthropy / Shaul Kelner
3  The Price of Success: The Impact of News on Religious Identity and Philanthropy / Diane Winston
4  Heartbroken for God's World: The Story of Bob Pierce, Founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse / David P. King
5  Catholic Charities, Religion, and Philanthropy / Fred Kammer, S.J.
6  “Intelligent Leadership in the Cause of Racial Brotherhood”: Quakers, Social Science, and the American Friends Service Committee's Interwar Racial Activism / Allan W. Austin
7  Religious Philanthropies and Government Social Programs / Sheila S. Kennedy
8  Juggling the Religious and the Secular: World Visions / Susan McDonic
9  Philanthropic Decisions of American Jews: The Influence of Religious Identity on Charitable Choices / Arnold Dashefsky and Bernard Lazerwitz
10  Myth vs. Reality: Muslim American Philanthropy since 9/11 / Shariq A. Siddiqui
T HIS VOLUME EVOLVED from a public symposium entitled “Family, Friend, Foe? The Relationship of Religion and Philanthropy in Religious Philanthropic Organizations,” held on the campus of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) on October 7–9, 2010, and from a public lecture held at the auditorium of the Indiana Historical Society the next week. I gratefully acknowledge here the following for their generous support and funding for these two events: the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Internal (IAHI) Grant Program; the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and its dean, Dr. William Blomquist; the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, housed at IUPUI, and its director, Dr. Philip Goff; the IUPUI Department of Religious Studies and its chair, Dr. Peter Thuesen; and the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, with its home at IUPUI in the Center on Philanthropy, and its director, Dr. William Enright. In addition to funding from the Lake Institute, I was privileged to hold, for a three-year period, the Lake Chair in Religion and Philanthropy, from which came funds to help underwrite the symposium and this book. To learn more about the Lake Institute's work and history, please visit .
Two doctoral students in philanthropic studies at IUPUI provided assistance with this project. Thanks go to Peter Weber for his work compiling bibliography related to religion and philanthropy and to William Cleveland for logistical support during the symposium and public lecture.
Thomas J. Davis
P HILANTHROPY, AS A descriptive term, has evolved over time, and its particular meaning is often subject to the perspective from which it is studied. From the ancient Greeks, from whom the word came, to contemporary America, the word has meant many things. In the context of its usage in the United States, it has designated a literal and general “love of humanity,” indicated a rational and systematic approach to the elimination of social ills, gained currency as a label for the process of distribution of money and goods by the wealthy, and, most recently, been redefined in a variety of ways to indicate voluntary action (gifts of money, time, commitment, etc.) for the public good. Other definitions can also be found, especially ones that seek to distinguish philanthropy from religious notions of charity and obligation, emphasizing philanthropy's nonsectarian, scientific, and professional nature. This last impulse became a very popular way of looking at philanthropy, especially in the first three-fourths of the twentieth century (and, in fact, persists widely today). 1
Yet much of the emerging scholarly literature on philanthropy (a field of study that has emerged just over the past thirty to forty years, with much of the historical analyses of philanthropy quite recent) notes the close connections between charity and philanthropic work. So, while the two can certainly be distinguished, there is good reason not to separate them because, together, they tell the story of giving, especially in the United States. 2 Thus, many of the motivations that move one toward religious charity can also encourage philanthropic activity. The most common distinction between the two has to do with the ultimate purpose of each: for charity, it is a matter of helping an individual; for philanthropy, it is about changing society for the better (which, of course, in the long run and averaged out, should carry good consequences for individuals).
One can speak, then, of religious philanthropy. By this, one would mean religiously motivated actions (giving, volunteering, etc.) that aim to alleviate ills at a societal level. Though individuals would be helped in the course of the execution of such philanthropic activity, the goal is a betterment of society as a whole. Oftentimes, especially in religious philanthropy (as opposed to foundation-type philanthropy, where the institutional mechanisms are often funded by a wealthy individual), the work is corporate in nature, one that is organized on a scale that exists beyond the individual or small group of individuals.
Of course, giving is a complicated matter, whether undertaken as the charity of an individual, for religious or nonreligious reasons; whether through the mechanisms of an institutionalized philanthropy; or whether it is a gift of time, money, or talent. Especially because many who are engaged in religious philanthropy value giving specifically as a religious responsibility, it is wise to keep in mind just how complicated giving can be. Even when done on a large and seemingly impersonal scale, philanthropy of all kinds is still talked about in terms of giving something that addresses social problems with the intent of making a better world. Certainly, it is helpful to keep in mind the dynamics of the gift economy; someone like Lewis Hyde (relying in part on Marcel Mauss) can help untangle the complexity of a gift, even outside the structure of a strictly gift economy. 3
This complexity is captured, in part, in the argument that “philanthropy inevitably has a two-sided character in which kindness and privilege experience an uncomfortable marriage to one another…. Philanthropy's forms are inextricably wedded to the particular forms of dominance and privilege in each historical time and each historical place.” 4 What is more, if philanthropy is a means by which individuals realize their values, as has been suggested, there will be some level of conflict inherent in the functioning of any philanthropic activity because different individuals and different groups within a society hold substantially different values. 5 Certainly, one would expect this insight to be true in religious philanthropies, wherein those who hold religious worldviews understand philanthropic activity to be an expression of obedience to divine mandate—and not just obedience but also an expression of devotion. Thus, a host of issues—complexities, if you like, or tensions—arises about philanthropic work and its relationship to religion when a religious organization uses such work as a means to realize religious goals.
One could point to a number of salient issues. Donor–donee dynamics certainly come into play in a variety of ways, for example, as one considers that a religious philanthropic organization often serves those of another faith or no faith at all yet still needs to maintain and highlight, for itself and its religious supporters, the essentially spiritual quality of the philanthropic work. An analysis that adopts a stance of solidarity with the donee can call into question the real motives involved in philanthropic work, especially that which is religiously inspired. One might refer to a particular sharp portion of a poem by John Boyle O'Reilly, a nineteenth-century poet, novelist, and newspaper editor, who sought, from his own perspective as an advocate for the dispossessed (especially the Irish who came stateside to escape the terrible Irish potato famine), to capture and expose the dark side of dynamics that relate to tensions inherent in both religion and philanthropy:
But the thirsty of soul soon learn to know
The moistureless froth of the social show;
The vulgar sham of the pompous feast
Where the heaviest purse is the highest priest;
The organized charity, scrimped and iced,
In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ;
The smile restrained, the respectable cant,
When a friend in need is a friend in want;
Where the only aim is to keep afloat,
And a brother may drown with a cry in his throat. 6
At the time of O'Reilly's writing, charitable balls had become long established in both religious and nonreligious settings as a way to raise money for worthy causes, often poor relief. He found the practice, however, to be wanting in human soul, and he thought the events too disconnected from those suffering the effects of extreme poverty—the root, it was thought, of most urban ills. He lamented the lack of real community in such events, and he thought they primarily glamorized the givers at the expense of those who would receive. The poem implies that the organized charity contributed to the shriveling of the soul (“cautious, statistical Christ”). There was, O'Reilly recognized, a power dynamic at work in the relation of giver and receiver in the charity balls that he thought at odds with the true community of humanity he found “in Bohemia.”
Though the mechanisms of giving changed over time—the charitable ball gave way after the turn of the century to the so-called professional philanthropy advocated by the extremely wealthy—new types of problems arose to stand beside the older ones. The rising philanthropic class advocated giving that was professional, scientific, and nonsectarian (all three terms, to some extent, were used to set the new philanthropy apart from the older mode of religious charity). This new development, however, did not eliminate the reality of power dynamics; indeed, it may well have heightened them. 7 Furthermore, as the monied philanthropic class engaged the emerging social sciences to evaluate and resolve social ills, many within religious establishments sought to follow suit. Indeed, one sees in the early twentieth century such things as the development of departments of “Christian sociology”; the establishment of the first school of social work at the University of Chicago with the help of a Christian minister, Graham Taylor, who also sought to apply sociology to the problems of urban existence; and the work of some early sociologists who sought to fulfill their religious calling through the application of sociological principles to the needs of others. 8 Yet the marriage of sociology and Christian philanthropic work oftentimes was a strained union and, as we shall see in chapter 6 , it was a union that did not, at least in one case, serve either party well because of fundamental differences in outlook and worldview. That case highlights what happened when a religious group, in its desire to follow the trajectory of professional philanthropy and rely upon the social sciences, found that such a scientific and professional outlook actually conflicted, to some extent, with that group's self-understanding.
Church–state issues loom large when considering religion in philanthropic activity. One question that arises is the role of governmental rules and regulations. During the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, various legislative acts set the framework for philanthropic giving. There are laws that deal with the tax-deductible status of certain types of gifts—most often, gifts that are given for religious, educational, research (especially medical), or society-enhancing reasons. The government's role in determining which gifts receive this preferred status cannot be underestimated in terms of the power it gives the government in choosing those things that it thinks benefits society. There is also the issue of which organizations can receive not-for-profit status, thus becoming exempt from a variety of taxes. Finally, there is the government's role in actually funding the work of certain organizations on behalf of the common good. Philanthropic organizations with concomitant religious outlooks can and do receive government aid, oftentimes serving as a point of distribution for disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and development projects.
So how does a religious philanthropic organization navigate the demands of governmental regulations when that organization is the recipient of federal dollars—regulations that, some would suggest, compromise the essentially religious outlook of that organization? Or, even more starkly, how does a religious organization deal with a government that is suspicious of its philanthropic endeavors? And how does one keep a bright line of distinction between church and state in the religiously inspired delivery of aid provided from government funds? Even if government funds are not involved, other questions arise about the relationship between government and religiously motivated philanthropic work when religious groups take (quite visibly and explicitly religiously) to the public square, using religious ritual to raise awareness of and combat human rights abuses. Such activity certainly meets Robert Payton's view of philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good,” 9 even though it is a good that is politically charged. These complications of religious philanthropy are addressed in the chapters that follow.
In many of the chapters, the issues are discussed in such a way that there emerges an important theme—religious identity. Though we noted above that tensions arise between donor and donee, sometimes because of the inherent play of power dynamics in philanthropic work, it would be too simple to suggest that all of the power and all of the privilege reside entirely on the side of the religious philanthropic organization. Some certainly does. But in exploring the ways religious philanthropies try to embody their vision of the good society (or the good world) through their philanthropic work, one quickly bumps into another reality: Other social structures, interests, and powers, including government but not confined to just that sector, work toward different visions of the good. Thus, in a number of the case studies here presented, philanthropic work seems to be a double-edged sword; that is, religious groups undertake philanthropic endeavors as an expression of their religious outlook, but a number of pressures related to how philanthropic work is undertaken and how it is understood more broadly by the larger society can be seen to modify, reshape, or challenge religious identity in the process.
It has been argued that, in terms of size of program or program activities, religious identity makes only a small difference, at best, for those religious groups that maintain relief and development organizations. 10 While that may be true, in terms of an organization's self-understanding, however, or in terms of how religious partners around the world understand the work of an organization, there is a difference, and it comes down to the religious motivations that push the work forward for those involved. The religious aspect of philanthropic work matters for those who engage in that work as an expression of their religious identity. It is, moreover, a source of tension when the philanthropic work itself somehow replaces the religious component as the identifying core for the religious organization engaged in philanthropic work. 11
The organizations examined in this volume have been chosen because they illustrate the complexities of the issues outlined above. An exploration of some of the tensions within these religious philanthropic organizations shows how the study of such groups can illuminate religion, philanthropy, and culture in particular times and place. After all, philanthropy and religion, especially with government thrown into the mix, exemplify struggles by various parties to define and create “the common good.”
In chapter 1 , “New Wineskins or New Wine? The Evolution of Ecumenical Humanitarian Assistance,” Elizabeth G. Ferris examines the humanitarian-aid activities of the World Council of Churches (WCC) over a sixty-year period. Since its inception in 1948, service to people and churches in need has been central to the work and identity of the WCC. For decades, churches supported one another through the multilateral instrument of the WCC. When an emergency occurred, the WCC would contact the churches in the affected area and issue an appeal that churches around the world would support. The WCC would monitor the expenditure of funds and, by working multilaterally, would prevent duplication of effort and ensure that small churches as well as large ones were supported. This system began to change in the 1980s as large church-related agencies emerged in the global North; those agencies saw themselves as development or humanitarian agencies and aspired to both a professional level of engagement and access to government funding. The agencies developed significant expertise in their fields, they worked closely with their secular counterparts, and they chafed at turning over funds to the somewhat antiquated WCC system of interchurch aid. Ferris explores the reasons behind the transition from interchurch aid to professional development agency, with a particular focus on the power dynamics of North–South ecumenical relationships, the role of government funding, the tensions between solidarity and professionalism, and the implications these developments have on relationships among churches.
In chapter 2 , “Religious Ambivalence in Jewish American Philanthropy,” Shaul Kelner examines the ambivalence over the place of religion in American Jewish philanthropy. Since the early 1900s, a national network of community chests has served not only as the Jewish community's primary apparatus of charitable fund-raising and distribution but also as its central agent of communal governance. From its inception, the Jewish federation system proffered a notion of an American Jewish public square that maintained separation between matters of religion (left to the synagogues) and matters of “state” (represented by the philanthropic federations). So long as Judaism remained institutionalized within synagogues, this arrangement worked. In the 1960s, however, a religiously framed American Jewish campaign to alleviate the plight of Soviet Jews brought Judaism out of the synagogues and into the streets. This movement into the public square included the celebration of politically themed Passover seders in such places as in front of the Russian embassy in New York City. Through this case study, Kelner explores (1) the challenges posed to the federation's legitimizing ideology by this public display of religious ritual, (2) the federation system's ambivalent embrace of a role in religious affairs, and (3) the implications of the erosion of religion–“state” separation for the Jewish philanthropic system.
In chapter 3 , “The Price of Success: The Impact of News on Religious Identity and Philanthropy,” Diane Winston charts the fortunes of the Salvation Army as portrayed in the print media. The Salvation Army is one of the best known and most trusted philanthropic organizations in the United States. Yet it was not always so. Considered outsiders by the religious establishment in the late nineteenth century, the Army's activities were looked upon with suspicion and, at times, hostility. One of the turning points for the American Salvation Army came during the course of relief efforts in World War I, when the Army's image was reshaped through its relief work. For several decades, the media downplayed the Army's religious commitments, focusing almost entirely upon the positive aspects of its philanthropic endeavors. A new phase in coverage began, however, in the 1960s, when the Army's conservative religious values clashed with the spirit of the 1960s. Conflicts arose, in addition, because of new government regulations the Army was obliged to uphold because of its receipt of public dollars for use in its delivery of social services. The final thirty years of the twentieth century, which saw increasing conflict over the role of religion in public life, brought the glare of media attention to the Army's evangelical commitments. How to maintain its religious identity, work within government regulations because of the federal funds it receives, deliver its religiously motivated social services, and do so while in the media spotlight is the task of the twenty-first-century American Salvation Army.
David P. King provides a look into the work of a religious man who founded two philanthropic organizations. In chapter 4 , “Heartbroken for God's World: The Story of Bob Pierce, Founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse,” King provides the book's only biographical chapter. Bob Pierce started World Vision in 1950 with a mission of evangelism and child care in Korea. The organization's success was due entirely to Pierce's charisma. He traveled the world to discover the needs of missionaries and orphans, and he promised them immediate support. While an insider to an American evangelical audience, he was an outsider to mainstream development discourse. The 1960s brought transition. Acceptance of governmental funding and increased public prominence required greater board oversight that Pierce felt handcuffed his simple faith in God's provision. Professionalization eclipsed charisma. By 1967, Pierce resigned in frustration. By the late 1970s, World Vision transitioned into a major player in global relief and development. They marketed to a wider public, engaged mainline and secular nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and raised enormous private and public financial support. In contrast, Pierce founded Samaritan's Purse in 1970 to recreate the World Vision of the 1950s. Again globetrotting for God, Pierce was in his element, personally promising support to individual causes and relying on God to provide the funds. Both organizations still bear the marks of their relationships to their founder. How each has dealt with issues of religious identity while engaging the broader philanthropic community continues to define each organization.
Fred Kammer examines “Catholic Charities, Religion, and Philanthropy” in chapter 5 , wherein he provides an overview of Catholic Charities USA, looking at its organizational structure, its clientele, its variety of services, its employees and volunteers, and its funding apparatus. He then moves to a history of the relationship between government and Catholic-sponsored philanthropic work, exploring especially the faith-based initiatives of the Clinton/Bush/Obama years. In the wake of the confusing history and dubious state of the faith-based initiative of the past decade or two, he charts the complex and nuanced position of Catholic Charities on pluralism—as articulated and practiced in various ways across the country and in conversation with what makes Catholic Charities Catholic. Pluralism brings a number of “stresses” on the structure of Catholic Charities from the various stakeholders in the system of American social services; for example, some argue that Catholic Charities is too Catholic, while others argue that it is not Catholic enough. He concludes that the opportunities for weaving together so many stakeholders—the Catholic Church, the government, social service providers, and those who receive services, among others—should not be taken lightly, nor should they be easily dismissed by those unfamiliar with the realities and complexities of contemporary social welfare in this country.
In chapter 6 , “‘Intelligent Leadership in the Cause of Racial Brotherhood’: Quakers, Social Science, and the American Friends Service Committee's Interwar Racial Activism,” Allan W. Austin portrays a slice of history that illustrates the tensions that arose as a religious service organization engaged current social scientific thinking to help direct its philanthropic work. (Certainly, if one accepts Payton's definition of philanthropy—voluntary action for the public good—the AFSC's engagement with race issues qualifies as philanthropy, in that it sought to embody values and a vision that would lead to a better society.) After pursuing racial justice in the latter half of the 1920s, the AFSC took a step back from concerted interracial action for much of the 1930s, instead exploring the intellectual scaffolding that underlay their earlier efforts and that might support future activism. Austin examines this introspective turn via the Institute of Race Relations, an annual conference held from 1933 to1941 that drew many of the best-known scholars of race and ethnicity in the United States. He details how the AFSC came into contact with “scientific” ideas about race, responded to them, and ultimately made academic thought meaningful for itself in a religious context, though struggling to balance the social structure emphases of the emerging social sciences with the “inner-light” theology of the Friends' religious tradition that guided its motivations. Indeed, especially in the early years of the institute, there was attention given almost exclusively to social science, with Quaker thought and practice ignored; more than that, the early curriculum expressed the doubts of the social scientists that religious organizations could, in fact, function in such a way as to contribute to an improvement in racial attitudes.
In chapter 7 , “Religious Philanthropies and Government Social Programs,” Sheila S. Kennedy analyzes the types of tensions involved in contracts between religious philanthropies and agencies of government. The concerns raised by “faith-based” contracting are both constitutional and religious. Government agencies must ensure that services comply with the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government endorsement or sponsorship of religion; religious organizations worry about being co-opted—about losing their distinctive religious approach to service, or losing their prophetic voice. In other words, they worry about losing their religious identity and distinctiveness. Kennedy reminds readers that, whatever the merits of the Bush administration's faith-based initiative, it generated significant research into the issues implicated by partnerships between religious organizations and government. These issues are not new; faith-based contracting preceded George W. Bush by many decades (as the chapters by Winston, King, and Kammer make clear), and religious organizations will continue to work with government agencies to deliver services to those in need. Kennedy concludes that religious organizations contemplating a partnership with government should consult the scholarly literature for advice on how best to structure such relationships.
The book returns to World Vision in chapter 8 , Susan McDonic's “Juggling the Religious and the Secular: World Visions.” Whereas chapter 5 by King is biographical and historical in nature, McDonic's work is contemporary and more social scientific. World Vision, though engaged in faith-based development, is forced to grapple with a world of professional development that is wedded to the secular. McDonic argues that World Vision is successful as a global organization due, in large part, to the fact that the various World Vision branches share idioms of both Christianity and development. On one level, these discourses lend themselves to each other in ways that are mutually reinforcing; both are based on an ethic of care and compassion, and both are marked by the dream of a more equitable and just world. On another level, however, these discourses are incompatible. At this level, McDonic argues, the secular and the religious diverge because they hold two very different understandings of the world. Through her comparative study of World Vision Canada and World Vision Ghana, she finds that the inherent tensions between the secular and the religious are minimized as each of the two World Vision branches emphasizes one worldview over the other. In World Vision Canada, development practice is stressed at the expense of its institutional Christian message; World Vision Ghana foregrounds faith and the Christian underpinnings of its development efforts.
In chapter 9 , “Philanthropic Decisions of American Jews: The Influence of Religious Identity on Charitable Choices,” the starting point for Arnold Dashefsky and Bernard Lazerwitz is the substantial research in the social sciences that has approached charitable giving from a variety of perspectives, such as the economic, psychological, sociological, and anthropological. Dashefsky and Lazerwitz, however, present an alternative social-psychological perspective to explain both the motivations of individuals who make charitable gifts and the barriers that constrain them. To explore this issue, they examine several datasets of studies in the Jewish community, including data from the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), nonprobability samples of donors and non-donors, and professional directors of fund-raising. Dashefsky and Lazerwitz find that age, family income, Jewish education, denominational preference, synagogue membership and attendance, involvement in Jewish primary groups, home religious practices, and a positive orientation toward Israel were positively related to Jewish philanthropy. For many Jews, activity in Jewish fund-raising, in its turn, led to activity in non-Jewish (general community) fund-raising. The authors conclude that participation in the organized Jewish community is the key to giving. Therefore, in order to expand the ability of the private sector to augment the role of government in relieving social problems, it is necessary to improve the involvement of people in their local community networks.
Finally, in chapter 10 , Shariq A. Siddiqui presents “Myth vs. Reality: Muslim American Philanthropy since 9/11.” Many might assume that, since September 11, 2001, Muslim American philanthropy has decreased. As Siddiqui argues, however, formalized philanthropic activity among Muslim Americans has actually increased since September 11, 2001. A survey of fifteen of the largest Muslim American charities suggests that Muslim American philanthropy has grown by over 230 percent. Furthermore, the number of Muslim American philanthropic organizations at the grassroots level is also on the rise. As Siddiqui points out, however, the heightened scrutiny experienced by Muslim Americans and their charities has had a chilling effect on the means of philanthropic activity and how certain types of philanthropy are pursued. Regarding the former, some Muslim Americans are forgoing the benefits that accrue to most Americans in the exercise of philanthropic giving because many have changed how they give—eschewing, for example, certain credit card transactions that would actually benefit the giver if he or she were to use a card. Regarding the latter, Siddiqui argues that private remittances to the developing world (immigrants sending money home to families, for example) can be viewed as important philanthropic acts, and he points to how the post-9/11 framework has led to greater concerns about how such contributions by immigrants may be subject to especially intense oversight by the government. Muslim Americans must go through tougher and more formalized forms of philanthropic activity in order to feel safe from government's scrutiny.
These chapters, separately and taken together as a book, underscore the need to understand the very real complexities of the relationship between religion and philanthropy in religious philanthropic work. Religion has played and continues to play a large part in America's philanthropic activities, and it has been intimately involved in the public arena, putting forth various visions of the good society and pursuing the means necessary to produce results. There are a large number of religiously inspired and motivated agencies that devote themselves to the eradication of social ills. The power of religion to motivate will continue to make an impact on the varieties of philanthropic activities undertaken by many Americans, and so it is important to understand fully the complex social interactions, competitions, conflicts, motivations, and cultural influences involved in channeling sizable resources that have the effect of not only doing good but also of ordering, to some extent, how we think of the public good.
   1 . See Robert H. Bremner, Giving: Charity and Philanthropy in History (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1996); and Lawrence J. Friedman, “Philanthropy in America: Historicism and Its Discontents,” in Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History , ed. Lawrence J. Friedman and Mark D. McGarvie (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), esp. 6–8, but also passim. In terms of definition, Friedman states, “We postulate that charity and philanthropy themselves can sometimes have multiple and shifting meanings. In definition as well as in practice, it is sometimes rather challenging to determine what charity and philanthropy are not” (6).
   2 . Following Robert A. Gross, “Together, [charity and philanthropy] form the story of giving in America. They belong together, both in our scholarship and in everyday life.” Robert A. Gross, “Giving in America: From Charity to Philanthropy,” in Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History , 31. Gross goes on to explain:
Charity expresses an impulse to personal service; it engages individuals in concrete, direct acts of compassion and connection to other people…[Philanthropy] aspires not so much to aid individuals as to reform society. Its object is the promotion of progress through the advance of knowledge…. Such are the two traditions of American humanitarianism…. Charity and philanthropy stand at opposite poles: the one concrete and individual, the other abstract and institutional. But they need not be at odds.
   3 . Though writing in quite different contexts, both Hyde and Mauss are good starting places when one begins an analysis of philanthropy and its many expressions. See Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World , 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Vintage, 2007); and Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions in Archaic Societies , trans. Ian Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967).
   4 . Steven Feierman, “Reciprocity and Assistance in Precolonial Africa,” in Philanthropy in the World's Traditions , ed. Warren F. Ilchman, Stanley N. Katz, and Edward L. Queen II (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 20, 21.
   5 . Warren F. Ilchman, Stanley N. Katz, and Edward L. Queen II, “Introduction,” in Philanthropy in the World's Traditions , xiv.
   6 . John Boyle O'Reilly, “In Bohemia,” in In Bohemia (Boston: Pilot, 1886), 15.
   7 . To give one small example, Andrew Carnegie thought it important to help college professors—generally ill paid—with retirement so as to prevent a slide into genteel poverty. This program led to the creation of Teachers Insurance and Annuity (part of TIAA-CREF, the backbone of professorial retirement in the United States). In order to participate, however, colleges had to be nonsectarian, a principle held dear by Carnegie. Thus, a number of historically religious colleges changed their charters to reflect a nonsectarian stance. See William C. Greenough and Francis P. King, Retirement and Insurance Plans in American Colleges (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), 15. Whether one finally deems the change to nonsectarian status a good, bad, or neutral thing in and of itself, the point is that the philanthropic vision of a single individual—Carnegie—engineered a result that reestablished many institutions of higher education on a basis in line with that individual's view of what made for a good society. Later philanthropic acts from wealthy philanthropists and the foundations they established would duplicate this exercise of power in a variety of ways (such as the Rockefeller and Ford foundations underwriting efforts to fight the Cold War; see Gary R. Hess, “Waging the Cold War in the Third World: The Foundations and the Challenges of Development,” in Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History , 319–39).
   8 . For one analysis of this interesting history, see Susan E. Henking, “Sociological Christianity and Christian Sociology: The Paradox of Early American Sociology,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 49–67.
   9 . Robert G. Payton, Philanthropy: Voluntary Action for the Public Good (New York: American Council on Education/Macmillan, 1988). It should be noted that several of the chapters in this present book suggest different understandings of “philanthropy,” or they at least seek to expand beyond the definition that Payton provides. See especially chapters 1 (where Ferris reminds readers that the term of choice in the historic Christian ecumenical movement is diakonia) , 2 (where Kelner complicates the term by suggesting that more is going on in Jewish philanthropy than simply private action meant to serve the public good), and 10 (where Siddiqui suggests that the classic Islamic definitions of philanthropy are more expansive than modern definitions).
10 . Fred Kniss and David Todd Campbell, “The Effect of Religious Orientation on International Relief and Development Organizations,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36, no. 1 (1997): 102.
11 . The issue of core identity is highlighted in David P. King's chapter on Bob Pierce and World Vision. There are other facets of the identity question, however, that go beyond the clear-cut case of Pierce. For example, what happens when philanthropic work becomes an alternative identity marker, accepted by some but not by others, so that there is a sense that there is possibly a competition between philanthropic work and religion as an expression of peoplehood? This concern has received extensive attention in regard to Jewish religious identity and philanthropic work. The issue is addressed by essays in this collection, but it is a discussion that stretches back several decades. See, for example, Harold D. Hahn, “Synagogue-Federation Relations,” in Understanding American Jewish Philanthropy , ed. Marc Lee Raphael (New York: Ktav, 1979). Shaul Kelner, in chapter 2 of this book, with his expansion of the meaning of philanthropy complicates the simple dichotomies of synagogue/federation and sacred/ secular. Another facet of this issue of religion, philanthropy, and identity appears when others outside the religion reduce that religion's identity to its philanthropic work. As noted in Diane Winston's essay (chapter 3), the Salvation Army is better known by many as a charity than as a religion (as highlighted in a 2000 Washington Post holiday headline, “A Church Better Known as a Charity”). Winston points tellingly to a young Salvationist woman who, in the Post story, sums up the problem when she states that her friends think she worships in a thrift store.
1 New Wineskins or New Wine?
The Evolution of Ecumenical Humanitarian Assistance
Elizabeth G. Ferris
T HIS IS THE story of the global ecumenical movement and the way it has structured its philanthropic action in response to the needs of the world—and the needs of its members. In particular, it is the story of six decades of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and its many related organizations as they have grappled with the question of Christian responsibility to the poor and needy, to refugees, and to victims of floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes. The focus of this essay is on ecumenical humanitarian response—a term that perhaps needs some unpacking. An “ecumenical response” is one in which churches work together in their humanitarian action and see themselves as part of the global movement toward Christian unity. “Humanitarian response” refers to those actions toward people in immediate need or for people who are victims of conflicts, natural disasters, or oppressive governments. In its ideal form, humanitarian work is shaped by the basic principles of humanity, independence, impartiality, and neutrality.
The essay looks at this story in three phases: the era of interchurch aid, 1948–1961; the time of solidarity with the world, 1961–1994; and the transition to new ecumenical instruments, 1994–present. Furthermore, it looks at these three periods through three lenses: the relationship between ecumenism and Christian service (diakonia), the power dynamics within the ecumenical movement over questions of assistance, and the relationship between diakonia and the professional secular world.
The model of interchurch aid as practiced in its first four decades strengthened ecumenism and the ecumenical movement. The decline of interchurch aid in the 1980s and its eventual demise by 2010 weakened ecumenical structures, although it was far from the only factor that contributed to this decline. In fact, developments in the secular world were most responsible for the demise of interchurch aid and global diakonia, particularly the increases in government funding, the needs of governments to channel their support through the nongovernmental sector, the proliferation of humanitarian actors (both faith-based and secular), and increasing professionalism within the humanitarian community. These trends are all related. More available funding for humanitarian work meant the emergence of more actors, which in turn raised concerns about the quality of aid being delivered, and ultimately led governments to demand higher standards of accountability. These global trends, coupled with a certain rigidity in ecumenical structures that limited the ability of the WCC to respond with more flexibility to these challenges, were responsible for the changes that took place over the course of the past two decades. This is a story of transformation, and while the jury is still out on whether the new ecumenical instrument, the ACT Alliance, will be able to overcome the pressures that destroyed interchurch aid, there are possibilities for a new instrument of ecumenical solidarity with those in need—possibilities that hold out the hope for new expressions of ecumenism itself and of a new relationship with the secular world.
A Word on Definitions
While the other essays in this volume may use the term philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good,” this is not a term used in the ecumenical movement. Rather, in international ecumenical circles, the term of choice has been diakonia , meaning Christian service. This term is widely understood and used in Europe and other parts of the world, but North American ecumenical organizations often used the term service as a stand-in for the poorly understood concept of diakonia (although its expression in terms such as deacon remains widespread). There are many books, articles, consultations, and reports that provide theological reflections on the term diakonia. 1 This essay, however, focuses not on the theological understanding of diakonia but on the way in which the churches have cooperated with each other in service to human need. The ecumenical movement “is committed to the search for visible unity, not as an end in itself but in order to give credible witness ‘so that the world may believe,’ to serve the healing of the human community and the wholeness of God’s entire creation.” 2 In other words, ecumenism is based not only on a commitment to unity between churches as a theological imperative but also on the conviction that, by working together, Christians will be more effective in mission and in service. 3
Origins and the Era of Interchurch Aid, 1948–1961
The WCC was not the beginning of the global ecumenical movement. On different levels, individual Christians, missionary societies, and churches had developed ways of working together for decades through such instruments as the YMCA, YWCA, the Student Christian Movement, and ecumenical discussions around mission, faith, and order. A global mission conference in 1910 led to the formation of the International Missionary Council in 1921. The 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh is usually seen as the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement, as missionaries who had seen the negative effects of their competition in missions on Christian unity sought to develop ways of working together. Discussions about forming a global council of churches gathered steam in the years following World War I, and a provisional committee of the WCC was set up in 1942. Delayed by World War II, the WCC was formally established in 1948 as a fellowship of churches (not individual Christians, not ecumenical organizations, but churches). “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” 4
Even before the WCC was launched, however, the churches worked together in service to people in need. In 1944, organizers of the WCC created the Department of Reconstruction to help war-stricken Europe. This department set up or contacted councils of churches and their agencies which could offer help—first in the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden. Then, it asked the non-Catholic churches in war-affected countries to set up national committees to discuss their common needs (e.g., France, the Netherlands, Poland, and Germany). Funds were given by churches and their related organizations to churches and their related organizations, with the WCC playing the role of “matchmaker” between donors and recipients. Gradually, the Department of Reconstruction took on pieces of work in its own name through funds sent directly to WCC headquarters. By 1945, the department was united with the older European Central Bureau for Inter-Church Aid (set up in 1922) and renamed the Department of Reconstruction and Inter-Church Aid. By 1949, it had taken on the work of the Ecumenical Refugee Commission, which had been set up in 1946, and given yet another name: Department of Inter-Church Aid and Service to Refugees (DICASR). By the early 1950s, it had expanded its scale of response to include regions beyond Europe. 5
Department of Reconstruction, 1944–1945
Department of Reconstruction and Inter-Church Aid, 1945–1946
Department of Inter-Church Aid and Service to Refugees (DICASR), 1946–1960
Division of Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (DICARWS), 1960–1971
Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (CICARWS), 1971–1992
Unit IV: Sharing and Service, 1992–1998
Regional Relations and Ecumenical Sharing, 1998–2002
Diakonia and Solidarity, 2002–2006
Ecumenical Solidarity and Regional Relations (a project within the Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation Unit), 2006–
“From its inception, the World Council of Churches has considered diakonia as an inseparable component of the ecumenical vision, together with worship, fellowship, and witness to the world.” 6 This is a bold statement and one that was largely true for the first four decades of the council’s existence. The first general secretary of the WCC, Dr. Willem A. Visser’t Hooft, made his acceptance of the position conditional upon the readiness of the council to become active in the field of mutual aid, “for there could be no healthy ecumenical fellowship without practical solidarity.” 7 In the years immediately following World War II, the emphasis of ecumenical diakonia was on the reconstruction of Europe and especially on rebuilding and supporting the churches. Interchurch aid was intended to restore church buildings, to replenish human capital, and to support reconciliation between churches. The stories of interchurch relationships in the years immediately following the war are wonderful expressions of repentance, reconciliation, and commitment to maintaining ties between churches in countries that had fought a long, bitter, violent war. As initially formulated, interchurch aid was intended to support churches rather than to provide assistance to all those in need. This concrete expression of solidarity between churches supported ecumenism. Churches that received support through the ecumenical family saw that ecumenism had a practical—as well as a theological—dimension. Churches that supported reconstruction of European churches learned that they could do more by working together than they could do on their own.
In fact, it is hard to imagine what the ecumenical movement would have looked like without interchurch aid. Churches in Germany and elsewhere were desperate for support to rebuild. If they had not received international support, would they have been as committed to ecumenism, or would they have been more inward-looking and isolated? If they had received that support solely through individual denominational channels, would they have been as committed to ecumenism? Certainly, the commitment of the early WCC leaders and some of the major North American and European church leaders in reengaging with German churches was key to German reconciliation, the ecumenical movement, and broader political developments, such as the movement for European unity.
While interchurch aid was the rationale for the development of emergency relief programs, it did not take long for interchurch aid to extend beyond the churches. The churches and their communities were overwhelmed with refugees. Millions of people were displaced by World War II and subsequent Soviet consolidation of control of Eastern Europe. A particularly important component of the WCC’s work was its support for church engagement with refugees and its direct service to refugees. Refugee work was inherently international; refugees fled one country for another, and cooperation between churches enabled those churches to help find solutions for the displaced. Even during the Second World War, churches were actively cooperating to assist Jewish and other refugees to escape Nazi persecution. After the war, it was natural for these churches to work to resettle refugees from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe on a large scale. Indeed, by 1959, the WCC’s Refugee Service had resettled 209,000 refugees. 8 In 1960, the WCC had five hundred field staff working in thirty countries around the world on refugee issues. 9 The WCC’s Refugee Service was one of the first international organizations to work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) when it was created in 1950. Like both interchurch aid and UNHCR, what began as a focus on finding solutions for Europe’s refugees soon acquired a global character in response to widespread displacement resulting from struggles against colonial rule.
In the ten years or so after World War II, interchurch aid expanded beyond support for churches themselves to support for the churches’ programs to serve their communities. In the broader secular world, this was an era of hope for new multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations (UN), where the churches had played a central role in drafting the UN Charter and later the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was a time when governments and citizens around the world hoped that multilateral instruments would overcome national interests and their resulting conflicts. In this context, the WCC was the multilateral instrument of its member churches, and it represented the hope that this instrument would be successful in overcoming the petty disagreements between churches in the quest for Christian unity.
This was also a time when the Protestant churches were powerful actors in North American and European societies. Particularly in North America, most political and economic leaders were members of mainline churches. Moreover, the churches were in a privileged position vis-à-vis the secular world. The UN’s relief apparatus was just being set up, and most of the humanitarian relief agencies were either in the process of formation or were themselves dealing with the effects of the war on their own operations. Thus, 80 percent of the relief channeled through U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the immediate postwar period was sent through Church World Service (CWS), an early ecumenical service effort by U.S. churches later incorporated, for a time, into the National Council of Churches. 10 There simply was not much competition; the churches were way ahead of their secular counterparts in the scale of their organization, the strength of their institutions, and their commitment to international service.
As reconstruction work wound down in Europe, interchurch aid came to mean support for churches in their diaconal work in their communities. In addition to expressions of solidarity, expressed through letters, statements, and pastoral visits, supporting diaconal work also included financial support. The WCC, like many of its secular counterparts in the development world, structured this work as discrete projects. In 1956, the WCC published its first “project list”—a compilation of project proposals and budgets from churches around the world. Screened and recommended for funding by national councils of churches in the global South, the projects were listed and circulated to churches and their agencies in the global North for funding. Funders could pick and choose which projects to support—a system that suited the funders well, but one that some recipient churches did not like, particularly those that were not chosen by the donors. Less popular projects, such as support for theological education, tended to receive less funding than others, such as direct assistance to refugees. Beginning in 1971, the WCC came up with the idea of including “priority projects” along with the comprehensive listing of thousands of projects that were guaranteed funding from undesignated ecumenical funds. But the project system itself became increasingly controversial, as it was slow and bureaucratic, and the large church-related agencies increasingly bypassed the system. Over time, the project system came to represent less and less of the global transfer of ecumenical funds.
A somewhat different system for emergencies and humanitarian response developed in recognition of the fact that there simply was not time to wait for project proposals to be written. Rather, when an emergency occurred—for example, a typhoon or a war—the WCC emergencies desk would contact the churches in the affected area and issue an appeal, which churches around the world would then support. The WCC would monitor the expenditure of funds and, by working multilaterally, would prevent duplication of effort and ensure that small churches as well as large ones were supported.
Interestingly, by the mid-1950s, DICARWS had been “given permission to raise its own budget annually and therefore [was] not dependent on WCC’s general budget.” 11 At that time, the “service budget” was $1.1 million, of which $525,000 was for the refugee service, which in turn was used to mobilize an additional $2.5 million from other sources, mainly UNHCR, for its work with refugees. 12
While there was not much competition between the churches and secular agencies in the 1950s, competition with missionary societies was fierce. In 1956, the International Missionary Council and DICARWS met in Herrenalb, Germany, to divide up responsibilities for channeling assistance. DICARWS agreed to limit its support to projects for emergencies and refugees, to projects requiring an “urgent” response, and to “churches not in regular contact with missionary societies.” In other words, the mission societies were to provide the long-term support for mission activities and for development projects while the WCC was to concentrate its efforts on short-term emergency situations, refugees, and churches that were not in a relationship with mission societies. These Herrenalb principles, as they came to be known, were revised in 1964. 13 For many years, interchurch aid was expressed through support for projects. But global ecumenical concerns with issues of justice, development, peace, and, later, the environment were manifest in many ways beyond the project system and interchurch aid.
Solidarity with the World, 1961–1994
In 1961, the mandate of the WCC’s diaconal work was changed to a focus on solidarity—and solidarity as service to the world rather than solidarity only between churches. Rather than rebuilding church buildings and strengthening the human resources of churches, aid was to be given to support churches’ ministry to their communities, including health services, educational programs, and emergency relief when needed. Certainly, for the first twenty years or so of this period, diakonia was central to the council’s engagement with the needs of the world. But this was also a period when new concerns with justice moved to the fore, when the churches became much more active in working for peace, and environmental issues came on the international and ecumenical agenda. The International Missionary Council was incorporated into the WCC in 1961, bringing with it a different assortment of projects as well as substantive contributions on the nature of partnerships. In fact, while mission societies are generally regarded today with great suspicion by the secular progressive community, the ecumenical mission agencies were far ahead of their time in engaging with justice issues in the world, in recognizing the strength of local organizations, and in their quest to develop relationships of partnership between global North and South that transcended a donor-recipient relationship.
This was a time when ecumenism itself was growing. The number of national councils of churches more than tripled between 1948 and 2001, 14 and regional ecumenical bodies were founded in all regions over the course of two decades. 15 The formation of these ecumenical bodies was encouraged by the WCC as an expression of ecumenism—the drive for Christian unity—but also as means for channeling assistance from northern churches and their agencies to meet needs in the South and East. A major WCC Church and Society conference in 1966 called on the churches to move away from direct aid (because such assistance often created new dependencies) and instead move to support development programs that were locally funded and administered. Transformation and social justice became central themes of ecumenical discussions. In fact, “justice not charity” was a keynote of the 1968 Uppsala Assembly, ushering in a period of intense reflection on the relationships among solidarity, development, mission, and justice. At the same time, the WCC played a leadership role in strengthening secular networks of NGOs to respond collectively to challenges in emergency response. The WCC was a founding member of both the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) in 1962 and of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) in 1972. 16 While ICVA was (and is) the only global coalition bringing together northern and southern NGOs working in emergency response, SCHR was a smaller gathering of the largest NGO families working on humanitarian response. The WCC had a foot firmly in both camps.
In 1971, the Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development (CCPD) was formed to look at development from a progressive perspective with a particular emphasis on peoples’ participation in development rather than economic indicators of growth. A decade later, this commission’s work culminated in the ecumenical conciliar process on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. While the Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (CICARWS) concentrated on meeting immediate needs through existing church and ecumenical structures, the emphasis in CCPD was on linking and supporting people’s movements.
With the benefit of hindsight, the separation of the progressive justice agenda from diaconal instruments was probably a mistake. CICARWS remained a powerful unit within the WCC—after all, it oversaw the disbursement of funds to churches in every region. But with the creation of CCPD, there was a perception that the creative thinking around development was taking place elsewhere, and CICARWS increasingly came to be seen as a utilitarian instrument for channeling money. CICARWS staff were organized as area desks (e.g., an Africa desk, a Latin America desk) with a few functional offices operating on a global level (e.g., refugee service, a migration desk, the emergencies office, personnel, material support). But the power in CICARWS—and, indeed, in the council—lay with the regional desks. The area secretaries played a key role in the council as a whole through their relationships with churches and ecumenical actors in the region. The main point of entry to global ecumenism for churches was usually the area secretary, who would refer them to other departments and staff responsible for different areas of engagement. But the area secretaries were also important because of the funds channeled through their offices. Although decisions on projects (and, later, priority projects) were made by regional groups, area secretaries could shape those discussions, advise churches on which projects were more likely to be funded, and, using their relationships with agency staff, often ensure that projects particularly important to specific churches received the funding they needed. The area secretaries were widely regarded as knowledgeable and essential to the ecumenical movement yet, at the same time, as presiding over little “empires” within the council. Their influence was strengthened by the fact that most of the agencies providing funds to the WCC were also organized along regional lines. Thus, the Africa secretary of Church of Sweden Aid had as counterparts the Africa secretary of CWS and the Africa secretary of the WCC.
After the WCC Assembly in Nairobi in 1975, the focus—and the language—shifted from giving and receiving to sharing of resources. The notion of resources, moreover, was redefined to include not just financial resources but also cultural, spiritual, theological, and human resources. In 1983, at the WCC Assembly in Vancouver, diakonia was both affirmed as central to the churches’ ministry and challenged to go beyond traditional understandings:
Diakonia as the Church’s ministry of sharing, healing and reconciliation is of the very nature of the Church. It demands of individuals and churches a giving, which comes not out of what they have but what they are. Diakonia constantly has to challenge the frozen, static, self-centered structures of the Church and transform them into living instruments of the sharing, healing ministry of the Church. Diakonia cannot be confined within the institutional framework. It should transcend the established structures and boundaries of the institutional church and become the sharing and healing action of the Holy Spirit through the community of God’s people in and for the world. 17
That same year—1983—a new WCC Office for Resource Sharing was created as a separate entity from CICARWS, based on a vision that all would be givers and receivers. While CICARWS saw itself as the multilateral ecumenical instrument for sharing, this new Resource Sharing mechanism was poorly understood. CICARWS staff and constituency were confused. Was this an effort to limit the power of CICARWS? Was it to be another layer of bureaucracy? The regional groups established in the early 1970s by CICARWS were changed to become WCC-wide regional groups intended to screen and list projects for the council as a whole. While the progressive independent analysis on justice was being carried out by CCPD, now the mechanism of resource sharing was supplanting CICARWS’s traditional role as the instrument for diakonia.
Even as CICARWS was struggling to find its role vis-à-vis CCPD and new resource-sharing instruments, the funds mobilized through the ecumenical movement were substantial. In March 1984, the WCC, together with Catholic partners, launched the Churches’ Drought Action in Africa (CDAA), an appeal to raise $100 million over five years. The target was met within a few months. By March 1986, the total amount raised by all participants in CDAA was $500 million. 18 These were impressive sums of money in the mid-1980s, but most of these funds were not transferred through the multilateral instrument of the WCC; they were sent instead directly by ecumenical agencies in the global North.
A major consultation on diakonia held in Larnaca, Cyprus, in 1986 emphasized prophetic diakonia rather than projects, stressed the importance of the local church, and called for the regional groups to devote more time to analysis and reflection and less to screening of projects. 19 In 1987, the World Consultation on Koinonia: Sharing Life in a World Community, held in El Escorial, Spain, highlighted the importance of sharing, reciprocity, and mutual accountability. Recognizing that increasing amounts of church funding for development were flowing outside of church and ecumenical channels, the consultation called for more ecumenical “discipline” and produced guidelines for sharing. These guidelines included “the implementation of mutual accountability and participation in decision-making between the South and the North.” 20
By the 1980s, however, the ecumenical and church-related agencies, or specialized ministries as they were called in some circles, began to chafe at the bit. These agencies had become major players in their own right, with increasingly larger budgets and independent identities. For the most part, the agencies had been set up in the same era as the WCC, the immediate postwar period, to respond to the same sorts of needs. Like the WCC, they worked to support the diaconal programs of local churches, councils of churches, and related organizations. They looked to the WCC for leadership, and the WCC expected them to follow its guidance, but they had no formal link to the WCC and no recognized “status” in the ecumenical movement. 21 Over the years, as they built up their resources, they began to wonder why they were simply sending money to the WCC rather than developing their own programs. In their own countries, secular organizations (and sometimes mission agencies) were engaging in development work on an operational level. The ecumenical and church-related agencies developed their own staff capacities, drawing from the professional world of development, and, by the mid-1980s, usually had far more staff capacity than the WCC. 22 Thus, an ecumenical development agency might have ten or twenty staff working on Africa while the WCC never had more than two Africa secretaries supported by several administrative staff. Yet the expectation was that the WCC was to play the leadership role in determining what the needs were of the churches—and societies—in the regions.
The agencies also began to chafe at the expectation that they would work exclusively or even primarily through the churches. Although this was what set them apart from their secular counterparts at home, they came to realize that churches and their related organizations were often not the most progressive elements of their societies. Nor were they the most efficient. Generalizations are always risky, but certainly many churches and related organizations in the global South had come to depend on their relationships with the WCC area secretaries for their financial well-being. It was a comfortable system for them and for the WCC but one that was challenged by the growing capacity and professionalism of the agencies.
Looking back, the Larnaca consultation provided an opportunity for a radical rethinking of ecumenical diaconal work, of discussing the possibility of new instruments for using the expertise of the agencies in supporting development work in the regions, and of building a capacity for progressive thinking on the burning issues of development. Instead, the Larnaca consultation emphasized the role of the local church in diakonia and called for more advocacy. But advocacy was not the strength of CICARWS. After the 1991 WCC Assembly in Canberra, CICARWS became one of four program units—now named Unit IV, Sharing and Service.
Advocacy was centered elsewhere in the WCC—in the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and in CCPD. The agencies were supportive of more targeted, focused, and effective advocacy, and they were critical of the WCC’s advocacy role. The WCC’s model of advocacy was based on statements by church leaders, which could be powerful statements representing the position of the global church on the burning issues of the day. But because such statements represented consensus by church leaders, it generally took a long time and often quite a bit of “watering down” before the statements could be adopted. By the 1990s, new models of advocacy based on grassroots campaigning were emerging in the world. This was a time when the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the World Social Forum were mobilizing young people on an unprecedented scale. The WCC’s emphasis on formal statements by church leaders and its reluctance to engage with new models of advocacy were a source of frustration to the agencies.
It is difficult to date when the agencies decided to pursue a more independent course and to create their own structures apart from the WCC. The flow of money had started to bypass the WCC much earlier; certainly by the 1980s, most agency funds were directed bilaterally. In 1990, the European agencies created the Association of World Council of Churches Related Development Organisations in Europe (APRODEV) with an office in Brussels set up particularly to follow the European Union. In 1992, four ecumenical development agencies (Bread for the World, Protestant Association for Cooperation in Development, Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, and Christian Aid) started a process of reflection and discussion about their work and its direction, including CCPD and churches from the global South. The resulting publication, Discerning the Way Together , signaled that the “WCC was no longer the only space for reflection on ecumenical diakonia and development.” 23
Meanwhile, the WCC sought to adapt to changing times by introducing ecumenical round tables that largely replaced the discredited project system. By 1990, there were fifty round tables in which national churches or councils of churches would present their plans and programs, and funding agencies would indicate the extent of their financial support. In some cases, these were dynamic gatherings in which partners analyzed the political, economic, and social contexts of the societies they were working in and would argue over priorities in the church’s total program. For example, there were opportunities for funding partners to encourage churches to include women’s perspectives and work on interfaith issues—issues that sometimes did not come naturally to local churches. At the same time, national churches challenged agencies to engage in greater advocacy on the burning issues that affected the lives of their communities. Other round tables were poorly prepared and marked by resentment on the part of the national churches about the scrutiny they were undergoing by northern agencies, viewing it as a lack of trust. The round table system was reviewed in 1994. 24
While the WCC’s work with long-term development was coming under criticism and increasingly seen as irrelevant for the agencies, the most radical change came in the area of emergency response. The WCC’s emergencies desk continued to respond to emergencies by working with churches in the affected region to issue appeals to support local partners’ response to the emergencies. But by the early 1990s, emergency response had become big business on the global scale, increasing from around 3 percent of official development assistance in the 1970s to 12–14 percent in the mid-2000s. 25 Increasing amounts of money were being channeled for emergency response. For the church-related agencies (like their secular counterparts), raising funds for emergencies—and being visible in emergency response—was important to their other work. They needed reliable information about the situation on the ground that they could use in their fund-raising efforts. The WCC emergencies system relied on short messages from local churches and a letter from the emergencies desk (supplemented later with situation updates) outlining the needs. The churches were not very good at providing rapid, high-quality reports of how the money had been used. Consequently, the agencies became increasingly frustrated. The situation was complicated by the fact that the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a confessional body to which most of the major financial supporters of the WCC were also related, also issued emergency appeals, often using the same local partners in the same situation. Thus, an ecumenical agency, such as DanChurchAid or Bread for the World, would receive appeals from both the WCC and the LWF for the same emergency (though the appeals were often different).
A 1993 review of the WCC’s ecumenical emergency response found that, “due to the growth in the number and visibility of humanitarian crises, the system had become unwieldy and unsustainable.” 26 In 1994, a new pilot structure, Church World Action, was put into place to respond to the widespread humanitarian needs in Rwanda. A year later, a new structure was created, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, with a single common purpose, which was to act quickly and conform to secular humanitarian standards. But before discussing this new instrument—which marked the beginning of a new era—it is appropriate to look back at the trends in this long second period in the history of the WCC’s diaconal work.
At the beginning of this period (1961 to 1994), CICARWS was at the height of its power; by the end, the signs of its decline were clear. In the early part of the period, there was an ecumenical commitment by the churches and their related organizations to work together in development and humanitarian response as well as a commitment to the WCC as the central multilateral instrument for doing this. Jenny Borden finds that this period—from 1968 to sometime in the 1980s—was the WCC’s heyday for advocacy as well; the council played “a visible, prophetic and inspirational role in global advocacy, leading education, prayer and activity in churches all over the world.” 27 CICARWS certainly strengthened ecumenism, and the flow of money to church partners in the global South ensured their loyalty to the WCC. While this sounds cynical and while financial transfers were important, this should not be seen as downplaying the genuine commitment of churches to church unity. But when church leaders could count on the WCC to provide the funds to support their work, they did not have to spend much time and resources looking for funds from other sources or cultivating relationships with secular funding agencies (as was the case for other civil society organizations in their countries). They could be assured that the WCC would accept them and their approaches to the issues. As funding through the WCC began to decline and bilateral funding from the ecumenical agencies increased—with more and stricter reporting requirements—southern churches became increasingly critical of the role of agencies and increasingly resistant to changing existing ecumenical structures.
Ecumenism itself was changing as ecumenical organizations proliferated, many of which depended on the same set of ecumenical and church-related agencies for funding. As mentioned above, many national councils of churches had been created or supported to serve as channels for funding development and relief projects. In some cases, these Christian councils developed their own service agencies, such as Christian Care in Zimbabwe. In other cases, such as Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) in India and the Social Assistance Foundation of Christian Churches (Fundación de Ayuda Social de Las Iglesias Cristianas, FASIC) in Chile, the churches set up ecumenical agencies that became increasingly professional. Ecumenical networks were created to deal with a wide range of justice issues, from children’s rights to water to indigenous rights to HIV/AIDS. Ecumenical and church-related agencies supported these justice issues, which were, in many ways, more creative and attractive to funding partners than the ongoing social service programs of the churches and their social service agencies. Theological institutions, lay training centers, and a host of lay academies also required international support. 28
While the ecumenical landscape was becoming increasingly crowded, the churches themselves maintained their own programs and agencies. Thus, Presbyterian World Service/Disaster Assistance was both an actor in international relief and a supporter of ecumenical structures such as CWS at the national level and the WCC at the international level. Sometimes, there was competition between these denominational structures and ecumenical ones. But the churches that provided financial support for these structures were losing members, funding, and energy. In North America, mainstream churches all faced sharp declines in membership and income between 1960 and 1990, and they reacted by cutting programs, staff, and support for ecumenical programs. In Europe, mainstream churches faced similar declines in membership, but most continued to receive funding through their national governments or through state taxes. In Europe, ecumenical and church-related agencies became favored instruments for distributing government funds.
Around 1990, CICARWS organized a briefing for the heads of agencies on its work. This was an opportunity for CICARWS to present its program and to garner support for its activities as well as to engage them in discussions of the burning issues of the day. These briefings became annual events and, over the course of the next nineteen years, changed in character from CICARWS (later Unit IV) briefings to the agencies to meetings jointly organized with agency representatives to a Heads of Agencies Network (HOAN), which developed its own agenda to meet the needs of the agencies.
The power dynamics during this era were characterized by the increasing power of the ecumenical agencies and the declining power of the WCC as a multilateral instrument. The WCC increasingly assumed the position of defending the churches vis-à-vis the agencies. Churches and service agencies in the global South found themselves developing bilateral relationships with agencies even as they defended their relationship with the WCC.
One of the major driving forces for change was the increasing professionalization of humanitarian work and the proliferation of humanitarian actors. In the immediate postwar period, as mentioned above, 80 percent of the relief and reconstruction funds sent to Europe was channeled through CWS. By 1990, there were dozens of secular and faith-based NGOs with far larger budgets than CWS: World Vision, CARE, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, etc. In its early years, CWS had enjoyed a comparative advantage because of its strong relationships with churches in all regions. But the trend in other secular organizations was toward developing global alliances. Thus, Save the Children USA was part of a global Save the Children Alliance with strong partners in countries such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden. World Vision was first created as an American evangelical NGO but in subsequent years was transformed into World Vision International with independent World Vision partners in many countries and a budget exceeding $2.5 billion. 29
For their part, donor governments channeled increasing amounts of their development and relief funds through NGOs. It was cost effective for them to contract out the work, and often they preferred to work through NGOs that could bypass southern governments (and the complaints they generated of corruption, political influence, and bureaucratic delays). In contrast to the southern governments, NGOs were seen as flexible, cost effective, creative, and committed. The Iraqi displacement crisis of 1991, the anarchy of Somalia, and the deepening war in the Balkans led to still more funds for NGOs—and to a drive for more professional standards. In this era of heightened competition between NGOs, a greater flow of funds for humanitarian response, and a drive for professionalism, the standard WCC mechanism for emergency response seemed old-fashioned, slow, and rigid. The ecumenical agencies drew distinctions between southern ecumenical agencies that had developed professional approaches to their work and traditional church partners who seemed to expect unconditional support by virtue of their relationship to the churches. To be fair, WCC staff worked with these southern churches, encouraging them to develop more professional skills and to increase their capacity. WCC staff organized capacity-building workshops, training partners in such issues as financial management, report writing, and proposal development. But the WCC’s capacity to train church officials was limited, and many more training opportunities were provided by secular organizations.
“Our mission is to help people in need,” Daleep Mujari, former director of Christian Aid, often said, “and if the churches can do that most efficiently, we’ll work with the churches. But if they can’t, we’ll find other partners.” In contrast, a Kenyan pastor lamented the fact that “the church agencies come in and run their programs without even talking to us. I don’t understand why they don’t support the churches. We’re in the community, we’ll be here forever. Don’t they realize that by strengthening our role in society, we can better serve the needs of our people?” 30
A Time of Transition: 1994 to Today
The period from 1994 to the present began with the creation of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International in 1995 as a new ecumenical instrument of emergency response. Fifteen years later, the ACT Alliance was established, bringing together ecumenical partners to work together in development. The ACT Alliance largely replaced the WCC’s diaconal work, whose area desks now focused on the important issues of relationships with member churches. In effect, ecumenical diaconal work—the practical solidarity of responding to churches facing earthquakes or assisting desperately poor people—has spun off from the WCC. 31 The center of gravity has passed from the WCC—as a council of churches—to agencies that represent a new form of ecumenical engagement, one that perhaps better reflects the needs of the world.
At the same time, increasing media attention to emergencies coupled with growing donor requirements for accountability have increased the pressure on international NGOs to implement more professional programs. In the global North, it is no longer enough for a local humanitarian organization to be church related; it has to be able to deliver measurable results and fulfill increasingly stringent reporting requirements. Northern church-related agencies increasingly are choosing to work with local secular and interfaith NGOs rather than churches, leading to questions from many local churches and church-related organizations that had relied on the support from agencies for many years.
For church-related organizations, questions of accountability between northern and southern organizations have been a major issue. In the 1980s, for example, there was great concern within the WCC-related network of church-related agencies about the concept of “ecumenical discipline,” which was a common understanding about relations between churches and church-related agencies, especially focusing on solidarity and mutual accountability. 32 A process of consultation sought to develop guidelines for the ways in which northern and southern churches and related organizations would relate to one another in a way that would respect the central role of local organizations. However, the pressures of professionalism and the competitive marketplace were such that implementation of these guidelines never got very far. European Union institutions, for example, provide significant funding for humanitarian work by large European church-related organizations. Often, a condition of this funding is the presence of expatriate staff in a given country. This means that a church-related organization receiving such funds is under pressure to send expatriate staff to the country rather than channeling those funds through a local partner. 33
ACT International sought to bring together ecumenical partners—both agencies and specialized ministries and emergency departments of churches—in one global instrument of emergency response. The creation of ACT was intended to meet several needs—the need for higher professional standards, for better and more modern communications, and for a common identity. In an increasingly competitive field (and a crowded one with hundreds—sometimes thousands—of NGOs in a particular emergency response), there was no visual marker identifying the fact that Finn Church Aid, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Christian Care were part of a global ecumenical family. Each church or agency used its own name. As Jenny Borden explains:
The secular families of agencies were growing and becoming stronger and more visible, whilst the church-related agencies, representing in many ways a more legitimate global expression of civil society, were continuing to act in disparate and invisible ways. There was a sense at that time that whilst the churches—both related agencies and local churches—were contributing massively in many of the emergency situations, the lack of coordination diminished the effectiveness of the response. Furthermore the level of involvement, coming as it did from a variety of agencies and churches within the ecumenical family all using their own names with no common visible thread linking them, was felt to be unrecognized by the international community, by government funders and by the UN humanitarian actors, and hence the ability to raise funds and have influence was diminished. 34
Catholic humanitarian actors had Caritas as a global umbrella, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement had long had a unique identity or brand, but the churches and related agencies in the WCC family had no common identity. The agencies resisted a formal identity linked to the WCC, perhaps fearing that a closer link to institutional churches would make them subject to church decisions or, equally important, give the impression that they were controlled by the WCC. Action by Churches Together was a good name for the new alliance—the emphasis was on action, on churches, and on churches working together (without the often misunderstood term ecumenical ). Membership in ACT International was initially automatic; all WCC and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches and related agencies were automatically members of ACT by virtue of their relationship to the WCC and LWF. (This was later changed as a membership application process was implemented; while all WCC- and LWF-affiliated bodies were eligible for membership, it was not automatic. Applicants had to apply for membership and indicate that they had signed the Red Cross/NGO code of conduct and were willing to abide by ACT policies.)
ACT International represented a new kind of global ecumenical instrument. Made up of members from both global North and global South, with a governance structure that represented a commitment to inclusiveness, ACT International had a small central office that moved quickly to establish clear policies in a range of areas, to improve the network’s communications, and to establish highly professional ways of working. ACT faced a tough time in its early years as expectations were high—and varied. There was still resistance in parts of the WCC to ACT and to the council’s lack of control over ecumenical emergency response. There was also some resentment of the dominant role played by the LWF, which, together with the WCC, was one of the two parent bodies of ACT. While the WCC disbanded its emergency office, recognizing that ACT was now its emergency response arm, the LWF maintained its separate emergency office. LWF no longer issued emergency appeals on its own, but its office stood ready to help Lutheran churches and partners with their proposals and submissions while there was no one at the WCC who could provide this level of assistance to non-Lutheran churches seeking support from ACT.
Over the years, ACT International became more and more recognized as an important actor in emergencies, developed increasingly professional standards and policies, and constantly struggled with the issue of power dynamics within its membership. ACT’s strength—in comparison with most other humanitarian NGOs—lay in its vast network of churches and related agencies in all regions. While some secular emergency NGOs could respond more quickly and effectively when an emergency occurred, ACT had local partners, rooted in their communities, who could provide both an effective initial response and long-term support—long after international agencies had departed. ACT devoted considerable energy to programs of capacity building but, as a 2004 external evaluation concluded, it was an incomplete process, and ACT’s full potential remained unrealized. 35 There were also tensions between northern agencies and, occasionally, between northern agencies and the ACT secretariat. In particular, the use of the ACT “brand” was erratic. The need for a common visible identity had been a major factor in the formation of ACT, yet agencies were inconsistent in the way it was used. For some, the ACT logo was included on their websites and business cards. For others, it remained very much in the background or seemed to be another bureaucratic layer. As one CWS staff member explained to me in the late 1990s, “Much of our funding comes from community contributions who really don’t understand how Church World Service relates to their denominations and who aren’t big supporters of ecumenism. So first we have to explain what CWS is—and often that brings up painful discussions of its relationship to the National Council of Churches. For us to then add another layer of bureaucracy to explain what ACT is and why we don’t just transfer the money to people on the ground—well, that gets too complicated.”
ACT seeks to build capacity of local church-related organizations in responding to emergencies in their countries. In spite of this capacity-building component for local organizations, of the $80 million or so channeled through ACT every year for emergencies, approximately two-thirds goes through northern church-related agencies (including the one-third passed through the LWF). The need for comprehensive and timely reports, particularly when government funds are mobilized, means that northern church-related donors often prefer working through large professional organizations over smaller church organizations based in developing countries.
While ACT was struggling to invent itself, the WCC was struggling to find its place in the new ecumenical landscape. In 1996, Unit IV attempted to recast its work in the context of Jubilee—the vision of a fairer world—and tried to place the work of diakonia at the heart of the council. But the notion of Jubilee—while interesting on a theological level—did not catch on. After the 1998 Assembly in Harare, the WCC engaged in another round of restructuring. Unit IV: Sharing and Solidarity became the Regional Relations and Ecumenical Sharing team. This represented a shift away from the WCC’s operational involvement and role in multilateral resource sharing toward a recognition of the importance of the area secretaries in maintaining relationships with churches and ecumenical actors in the region. It was also a shift toward enhancing the WCC’s roles in facilitation, coordination, networking, and capacity building of ecumenical organizations. While multilateral sharing continued in a reduced form, and WCC staff continued to facilitate and support round tables, funding dropped off. In 2002, the WCC consolidated its diaconal work in a new Diakonia and Solidarity team, whose stated aim was to “empower marginalized groups, including uprooted people, in their struggles for dignity and sustainable communities.” Within this overall aim, the team’s activities were directed toward five specific objectives: sustaining relationships among member churches and related organizations, creating spaces for reflection, empowering communities, building the capacities of member churches and partner organizations, and developing a coherent and holistic approach to meet human needs. 36
Meanwhile, the WCC constituency and staff were struggling with the issue of the WCC’s role in the ecumenical world. In September 1997, the WCC had adopted “Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches” (CUV), the product of more than eight years of study and consultation. The document notes that, while nearly two-thirds of the founding WCC churches came from Europe and North America, today, nearly two-thirds come from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Pacific. The CUV proposed the concept of a “polycentric” ecumenical movement in which the “WCC is no longer the center, but a privileged instrument with the role of fostering the coherence of the movement.” 37
The early 2000s were a time of crisis for the WCC as a whole. Its budget and staff were reduced by up to 50 percent, income dropped, and the council was forced to cut some of its major program areas. There was a feeling among many of the WCC’s member churches, particularly its Orthodox members, that the WCC had gotten away from its “roots” and needed to refocus its energies on relations with its members. As one WCC staff member reported,
One source of WCC’s difficulties has been its perceived priorities. A disproportionate attention to social and political issues, and the attention that WCC has given to a “third world” and liberal agenda, and to related movements, networks and NGOs, has tended to marginalize the theological, doctrinal and other priorities of the inter-church body, and has resulted in a weakened commitment of a number of traditional churches, distancing the WCC from local parish reality. 38
Specifically, there was a crisis with the Orthodox churches that were particularly affected by the demise of communist regimes. On the one hand, there were opportunities for church renewal. But on the other, Alexander Belopopsky reports, “Insecurity and threatened identity have led to defensiveness and fear of ‘the other.’ Many churches in Central and Eastern Europe, Orthodox and Protestant, have experienced a growth in anti-ecumenical sentiment over the last years, resulting in the withdrawal from WCC of two Orthodox churches, the churches of Georgia and of Bulgaria, as well as of the less-publicized Russian Baptist church.” 39 A Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC was mandated at the WCC’s Assembly in Harare in 1998.
While ACT was developing its new professional ways of working and deepening its relationships with the secular humanitarian world, the WCC’s energy was focused on deepening and improving relations with its members, particularly repairing damaged relationships with the Orthodox member churches. If the WCC was to have a role in multilateral sharing of resources or concrete expressions of diakonia, it needed to devote attention and political capital to the issue. But the attention of the governing bodies and of the leadership was devoted to managing the larger crisis. Any available energy went into discussing ways of strengthening relationships with the churches and discerning a new place for the WCC in the broader ecumenical world. In 2002, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser initiated a discussion on a new “architecture” or “configuration” of the ecumenical movement in response to the decline of existing models of institutions and the multiplication of ecumenical and confessional church structures. Recognizing that the present system was simply not sustainable, he called for a new, more flexible multilateralism. 40
Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
Meanwhile, the discussions within the agencies, organized as the Head of Agencies Network, focused on the need for a new ecumenical instrument for advocacy. Ecumenical advocacy—or public witness—had been central to the WCC’s work since its establishment in 1948. In fact, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs had been created in 1946 as the churches’ collective instrument for both speaking out on global issues of concern and conducting quiet diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations. It was a respected institution with an impressive history. But by the mid-1990s, its office in New York had declined as funding shortfalls meant a redirection of energy. 41 Where once the council had mobilized impressive teams to bring forward the churches’ concerns at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and indeed all major UN world conferences, the delegations began to get smaller, and the important ongoing monitoring role declined. The WCC governing bodies continued to issue statements on important issues of the day, and staff mobilized processes of reflection and analysis in support of some of these statements, such as on the use of sanctions. In particular, the WCC was instrumental in raising the issue of climate change and in leading the United Nations to adopt the concept of responsibility to protect. 42
Developing WCC statements and study processes centered on the CCIA staff and on the churches, however, because there was not much room for the agencies who themselves had developed impressive capacities for carrying out advocacy on the national level. They were eager to use their capacities and their collective identity to work on the global level. Agencies were represented in the CCIA and occasionally participated in the drafting of statements, but this was not enough. They argued that it was right and proper for churches to have their own processes for developing statements as churches, but the agencies, too, needed a way to conduct advocacy on the global level. A process, including WCC representation, was set up in the late 1990s to begin thinking about a new ecumenical instrument for advocacy and, in 2000, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) was created. The EAA went beyond the WCC’s traditional constituency and opened participation to a variety of groups, from World Vision to Catholic orders to churches and agencies in all regions. With more than sixty members, the EAA agreed from the beginning to concentrate on two priority issues in order to focus its work and to increase its impact. In its initial period, these issues were HIV/AIDS and trade; working groups were set up to conduct research and agree on strategies for action. The EAA was deliberately structured not to compete with the WCC and developed a campaign style of working that was quite different from the WCC’s deliberative and consultative processes with the churches. 43
Broadening the Ecumenical Movement
Meanwhile, there were initiatives to create new ecumenical structures to reflect the Christian landscape better—which include, for example, the Roman Catholic Church and the “newer independent, charismatic and non-denominational churches [that] have stayed away from the organized ecumenical movement.” 44 The Global Christian Forum, initiated in 1998, seeks to be a different kind of ecumenical body than the WCC—looser in structure, more inclusive in membership, and serving as a forum for dialogue rather than an organized implementer of programs. Following an intensive process of regional consultations, an international founding meeting was held in Limuru, Kenya, in 2007, which drew 240 delegates from seventy-two countries. 45 About half of the participants in the various consultations came from evangelical/Pentecostal churches with the other half from mainline churches. The Global Christian Forum recognizes the changing ecumenical demographic where Pentecostals today are estimated to number 600 million persons, while the churches of the WCC number some 550 million persons, and the Catholic Church includes more than a billion people. 46
In the United States, a similar process of broadening the base of ecumenical dialogue led to the formation of Christian Churches Together (CCT). Like the Global Christian Forum, it eschews structure; rather, there is an annual meeting, a steering committee to act between meetings, and two staff members. For its first two years, two themes were at the heart of CCT: poverty and evangelization. CCT is in dialogue with both the National Council of Churches in the United States of America (NCCUSA) and the National Association of Evangelicals. 47
It is striking—and deliberate—that neither of these two new ecumenical initiatives uses the word “ecumenical” in its name; rather they emphasize their “Christian” nature. Both have insisted that they do not intend to replace either the WCC or the NCCUSA but rather want to provide a broader forum for Christian churches to dialogue on issues of concern. Neither seeks to recreate the programmatic work of the two councils. As one supporter of the Global Christian Forum explains, this new initiative is seen as a forum that can welcome new realities in a way that traditional ecumenical structures cannot. “Those who have invested their lives into building and maintaining these [ecumenical] structures are at times blind to the challenges of the newer forms of Christianity, assuming that the newcomers, once they have learned the ‘ecumenical grammar’ will fit into and contribute to the old. Furthermore, the old is often blind to its impotence, this in spite of reduced budgets and vacant buildings.” 48
By 2007, the WCC’s project on “Ecumenical Solidarity and Regional Relations” was established—now as a project within the Justice, Diakonia, and Responsibility for Creation unit (itself one of six programs in the once-again reorganized WCC). The description of this project is telling:
This project reflects the ecumenical commitment to sharing resources amidst growing poverty and polarization, displacement, exclusion, etc. It provides practical solidarity in response to the needs of the WCC’s constituency, while keeping in mind the principle of mutual accountability. Such solidarity can take various forms: pastoral visits to churches facing difficult situations, working with churches to strengthen their organizational capacities, and providing timely resources to support strategic initiatives. 49
It goes on to say, “This project facilitates WCC’s involvement with ACT Alliance at the global level. Relationships with and between ecumenical partners working in the field of diakonia and justice will be strengthened as a result of this project.” 50
The last multilateral funding instrument—the Ecumenical Solidarity Fund—was discontinued in 2010. Financial support had been shrinking, which meant that many applications had to be refused and related administrative costs had become comparatively expensive. The WCC concluded that “the staff time involved can be invested more effectively for the benefit of churches in other activities of the Council” and suggested using funds remaining for other projects and redeploying staff in other areas of work. 51
ACT Alliance
While ACT International responded to emergencies and the EAA provided sophisticated advocacy on two specific issues, the agencies and specialized ministries wanted more. They wanted a global instrument to address the full range of issues on which they were working, which are frequently lumped together as development (including work on long-term community organizing and empowerment), issues of particular concern to women and youth, microfinance, the environment, and a host of other issues. Again, working through Heads of Agencies Network and with the WCC’s participation, the agencies embarked on a process to come up with a new instrument for bringing together the work and enhancing the visibility of the ecumenical family in the area of development. Given the success of the ACT name, they urged that the name ACT be expanded to include not only emergency response but also long-term development. They also suggested that the new body include the work of the EAA as a new advocacy arm. Discussions in Geneva and the regions were held over the course of several years and, at a meeting in December 2005, there was agreement to create a new ACT Development with the goal of eventually merging it with ACT International to form a new ACT Alliance that would work on both development and humanitarian response. It took four years of discussions and negotiations to reach this goal.
Merging ACT Development and ACT International proved to be a difficult undertaking on many levels. ACT International was concerned that broadening its mandate would weaken its work in emergency response—a process still being consolidated. Merging governance structures and staffing proved to be a time-consuming task. Given the difficulties of merging these two bodies (which at least shared a common membership of WCC- and LWF-related bodies), a merger with the EAA was postponed. If it was this difficult to bring together two bodies with roughly similar membership, how could the new alliance coordinate with World Vision and the Catholics?
The ACT Alliance was formally created in January 2010 and is currently made up of more than one hundred member organizations working in long-term development and humanitarian assistance. More than seventy of these members are based in the global South. Members work in 130 countries, employ around 30,000 staff and volunteers, and mobilize approximately $1.5 billion each year. The ACT secretariat has a staff of eighteen, and its members are all related to the WCC and/or the Lutheran World Federation.
The alliance brought together the work of ACT International (created in 1995) and ACT Development (created in 2003). Its mission statement of the alliance states:
Members of the ACT alliance work together for positive and sustainable change in the lives of impoverished, marginalised and vulnerable women, men, girls and boys through coordinated and effective humanitarian, development and advocacy work….     We work with and for people of all faiths and none. We give priority to the poorest and most vulnerable people in areas of the world with the greatest need for external assistance. And we work to enable and strengthen existing capacity and resources, putting communities at the centre.     We work to uphold ethical and professional standards of transparency and accountability to the communities we serve, to those whose resources we are asked to be stewards of, and to each other. In all of this, we are committed as an alliance to learning, coordinating and collaborating with each other and others to increase the difference we make. 52
The creation of the ACT Alliance was intended to increase the effectiveness of the work as well as the visibility of the ACT family within the increasingly diverse and crowded world of NGOs. Toward this end, the issue of branding—and co-branding, in which each agency includes the ACT Alliance logo with its own name and logo—became a central feature of members’ commitment to the new entity. One of the objectives of the ACT Alliance is that the alliance will “promote, under a shared family name, the visibility of the development work, humanitarian assistance and advocacy initiatives being undertaken by the alliance.” And the co-branding policy states that, “upon the launch of the ACT Alliance, members should begin using the new ACT Alliance name and logo and work under this co-branding policy.” 53 However, a quick check of the websites of a dozen ACT Alliance members in August 2010 found that only two have displayed the ACT Alliance logo on their home pages, suggesting that the issue of co-branding continues to be a difficult issue.
In terms of power dynamics, it seems the WCC accepts that the ACT Alliance needs to be accommodated and supported. In the years of consultations leading up to the formation of the ACT Alliance, the WCC feared that this was an effort by northern agencies to take control and to bypass churches in both the North and the South. Many of those tensions have either been overcome or submerged, perhaps, in part, because the ACT Alliance has made an effort to ensure the full participation of southern (and eastern) partners in its operations and has struggled to overcome the inevitable power dynamics of donor-recipient relationships. 54
Concluding Thoughts
Interchurch aid was central to the development of the World Council of Churches in its formative years and served to build and consolidate relationships within the ecumenical family, initially in war-torn Europe and later in the world. As ecumenical relationships became stronger, the WCC expanded its work of “solidarity to the world,” developing large-scale programs of service to refugees and channeling large amounts of money to support projects developed and run by churches in all regions. The reflection and analysis carried out on issues ranging from partnership to justice was, in many regards, path-breaking. For example, the suggestion that rich countries channel 0.7 percent of their GDP in assistance to the global South has its roots in the WCC’s Uppsala Assembly in 1968, which called for 2 percent of GDP to be allocated for development work. Similarly, the call for “justice not charity” was a theme in the same 1968 WCC Assembly—it would take several decades before this theme was seriously discussed in the secular world.
By the mid-1980s and early 1990s, the world was changing. The ecumenical agencies, largely created after World War II with support from their churches, were becoming more professional in their approach to development, humanitarian response, and advocacy. In part, this was a reaction to the increasing governmental resources available for development and emergencies, the expanding role of the media in shaping humanitarian response, and the proliferation of NGOs that created an increasingly competitive environment. The agencies attracted creative, committed (and, often, young) staff who wanted to change the world and who saw possibilities of doing so through global advocacy campaigns. Perhaps because most of the agencies had to raise funds from the general public, they developed skills in public relations, in telling human interest stories, and in new forms of communication. In this environment, it was not enough for agencies to raise funds by saying, “We’re passing the money on to the WCC to distribute to long-standing church partners who are doing good things.” The agencies developed their own partnerships and their own programs in all regions, sometimes working with church partners and sometimes developing new relationships.
Michael Taylor describes the professionalism dilemma as one of ecumenism versus efficiency.
Ecumenism, we are told, requires us to respect the special relationship which binds together the ecumenical family through thick and thin, and to choose to stay with ecumenical partners even where they are judged to be less than efficient when it comes to aid and development and the struggle against poverty and for life. Efficiency, it is said, declares that our first loyalty is to the poorest of the poor and that we must work with whomever we judge will most effectively address our overriding concern, whether they are ecumenical partners or not. 55
The new competitive environment for all NGOs, including faith-based organizations, is evident in all regions. Before 1989, for example, churches in Central and Eastern Europe were one of the few expressions of civil society. Rooted in the local context, they provided humanitarian assistance to people in need and were supported by church-related agencies from abroad as well as by their own constituencies. With the proliferation of NGOs in the following decade, their unique position was challenged. New, often more professional, NGOs were created to respond to particular social needs. For example, many new Romanian NGOs were created after 1990 to provide services to orphans and street children. Faith-based Romanian organizations that had worked for years with children now found themselves competing for foreign funds with new Romanian NGOs.
The glory days of the 1960s-1980s meant that the WCC had been well resourced to carry out hundreds of programs, but the flow of ecumenical funds had also enabled the establishment or growth of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ecumenical bodies—ranging from national and regional councils of churches to student movements to issue-specific coalitions to educational and training institutions. All of these required funding, however, by the agencies who were beginning to balk at the assumption that their support was required and yet not conditioned by performance.
Funds for traditional multilateral ecumenical institutions dried up. Institutions such as the World Council of Churches were caught in a bind. Its history, culture, and constituency predisposed it to continue working as it had always done, while the growing power of the agencies was insisting on new ways of working. There might have been a moment in the mid-1980s where the WCC could have introduced radical changes in its diaconal work that would have reengaged the agencies, incorporated professional, innovative ways of working, and maintained its leadership role. But the conditions were not right for the WCC to be open to those changes. And so the decline of diakonia—at least as expressed through multilateral sharing—began. This is not to say that the WCC does not continue to make contributions in other areas, such as theological reflection on diakonia or analysis of global issues, but its role in channeling financial support to churches has disappeared.

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